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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

“Marital Confidence” Linked to More Couple Time

Spending time together is an essential of marriage for every husband and wife. But it is no secret that the pressures of daily life often steal time away from couples, leaving them few opportunities simply to talk and share their lives.

What the National Marriage Project calls “couple time” may sometimes seem in short supply, but that does not lessen its importance.

The Marriage Project, located at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said last February that “couple time seems to foster more stable marriages.” Its report titled “The Date Night Opportunity” indicated that spouses “who devote time specifically to one another at least once a week are markedly more likely” than others “to enjoy high-quality relationships.”

Matthew Johnson, a marriage researcher at Canada’s University of Alberta in Edmonton, thinks a husband and wife signal the investment they are making in their marriage when they have a meal together at home or in a restaurant, engage together in a stimulating conversation or in outside interests, or simply spend time alone together.

A study by Johnson and Jared Anderson, a marriage researcher at Kansas State University, has just been published online by the journal Family Process. Spending time together can serve as a sign to a husband and wife of their mutual commitment and interest in the marriage, the study proposes.

Its focus is “marital confidence,” which it defines as “confidence in the decision to marry.” These researchers found that the level of confidence spouses felt about their decision to marry influenced how much time was spent with each other later.

Moreover, marital confidence ultimately influenced their degree of satisfaction during their marriage’s early years – satisfaction with the love they experienced, for example, or the way conflicts were resolved and fairness was practiced in their marriage.

“Individuals who are more confident about their decision to marry their spouse around the time of the wedding are more likely to engage in shared activities with their spouse” 18 months later, Johnson and Anderson reported.

Furthermore, they found that “greater time spent together a year and a half into the marriage was then associated with higher levels of marital satisfaction after three years of marriage.”

The study report asks why individuals “who are more confident in their decision to marry their spouse” might “be more likely to spend time with their spouse.” A possible explanation, it explains, “is that those who are more certain of their decision to marry” this person, “and thus have greater confidence about their future together, are also more likely” to engage in “behaviors that signify investment in their marriage.”

In turn, the study observes, these investments “can have long-term implications on the degree to which individuals find their relationships satisfying and rewarding.”

A number of other studies have linked the amount of time spouses spend together with higher levels of marital satisfaction, the study notes. But Johnson and Anderson wanted to know why some couples more readily than others spend time alone together.

Marriage Preparation and Counseling

You might think every engaged couple is happy and confident in their decision to marry. To a certain extent they are, the study indicates. Yet people vary in the level of their marital confidence, according to Johnson and Anderson.

They hope people working in the fields of marriage preparation and with married couples take a message from their study. It is, however, a message about more than teaching couples the importance of spending time together and ways of doing so.

The study also considers it important to assess “relationship confidence when working with couples in the early stages of their relationship.” It comments:

“A person could obtain the necessary knowledge and ‘skills’ to increase time spent together, but lack the motivation to engage in such behaviors because he or she has little confidence that the relationship will continue into the future.”

Ways are needed “to begin a deeper conversation” about a new couple’s “future outlook and their confidence in being able to meet the future challenges of their relationship,” the study asserts.

Research Area in Its Infancy

The Johnson-Anderson study points out that “research on relationship confidence is in its infancy.” It says that among issues this emerging field needs to understand better are the reasons “some individuals choose to marry their partner despite concerns that they may not have made the right decision.”

It cites the well-known observation by University of Denver researchers that some couples today are “sliding” into marriage without every really “deciding” to commit their future to each other.

Though research on the confidence individuals have in their relationships is in its infancy, this report represents the second time I have written on the topic this fall. In September I discussed a study at the University of California, Los Angeles cautioning engaged couples not to assume that premarital doubts always are meaningless or just a case of jitters.

The UCLA study addressed a type of hesitancy experienced by couples involving “some sort of doubt about the relationship” itself – something specific related to “uncertainty about getting married,” not mere nervousness over a wedding.

Such uncertainty does not predict future distress for every couple, it was acknowledged. But the UCLA study indicated that, on average, doubts do matter and deserve attention both by couples and professionals working with them.

About the author 
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.